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The American convention in quotations is (typically) to place punctuation inside quoted text. But I always run into situations where the punctuation of the quote interferes with the punctuation of the sentence. How would you punctuate this (American, non technical)?

When my friends ask, "What do you want for your birthday?", I never know how to respond.

It seems odd to place the last comma outside the quote simply because of the question mark. Is that the preferred (i.e. most often accepted) standard?

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I do not like the American convention. Nor do I follow it. – mmyers Aug 21 '10 at 5:40
Most people aren't sure enough of the rules themselves to offer any real criticism if you get it wrong. You can also just rephrase to completely avoid quotes, or rearrange the clauses to put the quote at the end of the sentence...As an American those are my preferred courses of action. – kitukwfyer Aug 21 '10 at 14:06
I wouldn't put a comma before the quotation. – Arlen Beiler Aug 21 '10 at 21:45
@Arlen Beiler Really? I think that is the standard way to do it. – Kosmonaut Aug 21 '10 at 21:56
My own view is that you need neither comma. The quotation marks themselves provide the necessary pause and sentence structure. – Margana Jul 4 at 7:49

3 Answers 3

up vote 27 down vote accepted

The British put them outside the quotes, which seems much more logical.

The American style is to put the punctuation inside the quotes. The American version is often known as "Typesetter's Quotes".

As you can see, I go with the British version, at least in informal writing.

Interesting fact: They are called typesetter's quotes because when typesetters were laying out the typesetting blocks putting the small blocks for punctuation inside the quotes made the layout more stable and less prone to shift around. That's probably why it seems so illogical, it was done for mechanical reasons, not linguistic reasons.

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Would the following example be correct by the British rules? He said, "That is awesome!". – mattblang Apr 23 '13 at 14:42
I won't answer whether it's correct, but I will say that it's definitely how I would punctuate that sentence. – TrevorD Jun 11 '13 at 12:52

Whoever said "The Chicago Manual of Style (6.8) says that When my friends ask, "What do you want for your birthday?," I never know how to respond. is the correct form." was most likely mistaken.

To begin with, they are probably referring to the 15th edition, where section 6.8 addresses periods and commas inside quotation marks, rather than the current 16th edition, where section 6.8 addresses punctuation with URLs and e-mail addresses. However, 15th edition section 6.8 does not address question marks and I could find no example of question-mark followed by comma followed by closing quote in the 15th edition. In any case the 15th edition is out of date.

The current edition (the 16th), forbids the construction of question-mark followed by comma followed by closing quote with one very specific exception. In section 6.119, punctuation that is part of a title is treated as if it is not punctuation, so if the title ends with a question mark, it would still be followed by a comma. However, if what is being quoted is not a title, then the comma is dropped as in these examples from the 16th edition:

“What’s the rush?” she wondered. (section 6.10)

Is it worth the risk? he wondered. (section 6.67)

“Are you a doctor?” asked Mahmoud. (section 6.119)

See all the Chicago Manual of Style Online Q&A where they change/correct

Can you believe that I said, “When she says, ‘Do you know which fruit Jim likes best: apples, bananas, or oranges?,’ tell her this: ‘Actually, I once overheard Jim say, “I only eat pears!” ’.”?!


Can you believe that I said, “When she says, ‘Do you know which fruit Jim likes best—apples, bananas, or oranges?’ tell her that, actually, I once overheard Jim say that he only eats pears”?

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Shouldn't the second example use quotation marks around the question? – htoip May 7 '12 at 4:35
@htoip, no, it does not need quotation marks because it is not a quote. I included it to show that leaving out the comma after a question-mark is pervasive in CMoS, not just having to do with quotations. – Old Pro May 7 '12 at 4:39
If the syntax were the reverse of the discourse: 1. She wondered, "What's the rush?" 2. He wondered, Is it worth the risk? 3. Mahmoud asked, "Are you a doctor?" The first two, using the same articulation (verbalized, none) of wondered seems to contradict not using quotes in example 2, does it not? – livresque Apr 9 '13 at 0:55
@livresque the examples are not a discourse, the are from 3 different sections of CMoS and are independent of each other. "She" is not talking to "he" and "Mahmoud" is not talking to either of them. – Old Pro Feb 4 '14 at 22:27

I find the British convention more rational and am trying to break myself of old habits. So '...birthday?", ...' looks good to me. I still swap my knife and fork when slicing meat, though.

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-1 The question is about a detail in the American style. Stating that the British style is better gives us no information requested in the question. – htoip May 7 '12 at 4:50
I'm a Brit - will someone please explain the 'British convention' to me? Personally, I put the punctuation inside the quote marks if it belongs to the quotation, and outside the quote marks if it doesn't. Also, I think many people these days would not put a comma preceding the quotation, although I have a vague recollection of being taught about 50 years ago that that was the right thing to do. – TrevorD May 13 '13 at 9:20

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